Opinionated. Sometimes brutally honest. Fiery. Not afraid to get in guys’ faces. Emotional.
These are just a few of the terms that have been used to describe new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Perhaps not coincidentally, these are also the traits Zimmer seems to be looking for in his defensive assistants.
Take Jerry Gray, Zimmer’s reported new defensive backs coach. Gray was defensive coordinator in Tennessee at his last stop, and to say his tenure there was tumultuous would be underselling it.
On at least two occasions, Gray was fined by then-head coach Mike Munchak for making statements Munchak deemed unprofessional. In 2012, Gray got in hot water with his coach – and also the NFL – for this little tidbit offered up to the Tennessean on his defense playing too timid out of fear of being punished:
If you are worrying about that, you are not going to go out and try and blow the guy up. Great football players have to put that out of their mind. You have to say, “This is my territory between the numbers, and if you throw the football you better bring the Gator truck.” And that’s how you have to play. You can’t play timid in the NFL.
Gregg Williams would approve of that “bring the Gator truck” attitude.
Gray was later punished by Munchak again for calling several officials “three blind mice” on the sidelines. Gray has gone on the record saying he didn’t deserve either fine, and has publicly made it clear that he doesn’t think very much of the Titans organization.
“[I have] Nothing to do with the Titans. I cut that part right out of my life,” Gray told John Glennon at the Senior Bowl.
Emotional? Check. Sometimes a little too honest for his own good? Check. Sounds like a Zimmer guy all the way.
And then take the new reported defensive line coach Robb Akey. You want to talk about enthusiastic and emotional? Check out this video of Akey getting crazy on the sidelines while head coach at Idaho.
Akey became a little bit of a folk hero at Idaho, mostly I suspect for his personality (it certainly wasn’t for his record; he went just 20-50 there). Perhaps Akey’s greatest super-coach moment came at halftime of his one bowl appearance, at the Humanitarian Bowl in 2009 against Bowling Green, when he blurted out to ESPN’s Heather Cox, “Watch the second half, you’re gonna love it.”
Akey’s team would indeed perform well in the second half and win its only bowl appearance during his tenure. The coach would be fired after starting the 2012 season 1-7 and would later sue the school for money he claimed it owed him.
Clearly, Mr. Akey has no qualms about showing emotion. Or saying stuff in the presence of the media that some might deem imprudent. Another guy cut from the same cloth as Zimmer, at least on the surface.
One thing I can pretty confidently state from looking at the reputations of Zimmer, Gray and Akey: Viking defensive practices are going to be very loud. And possibly sweary. But will all that demonstrativeness and cussing and Ron Swanson-y plain-talk ultimately result in a better defense? That remains to be seen.
It’s worth pointing out the past records of Zimmer’s assistants. Defensive coordinator George Edwards – the only guy in this discussion who appears to never have gotten in trouble for a statement made to the media or in the presence of officials – was run out of Buffalo after a short DC stint, and didn’t do a whole lot to improve the Dolphins’ linebacker corps during his time there as LB coach.
Gray and Akey both left their last positions noisily and after garnering a fair amount of criticism from media and fans. There’s a reason both men are taking backward steps in their careers. And some of it is down to their abrasiveness and occasional lapses of verbal self-control.
It’s a staff not just of emotional fellows with varied experiences: it’s a staff of cast-offs. Mike Zimmer is noted for his attraction to underdogs. It shows up in the players he tends to gravitate toward. And evidently it plays a part in how he assembles a coaching staff as well.
The personality part could just be a coincidence, but I doubt it. I think Zimmer is deliberately targeting emotional, outspoken men to fill out his staff, at least at the positional coach level. Those kinds of guys often make way better position coaches than they do coordinators or certainly head coaches.
Sometimes what a player needs is a quiet session at the whiteboard or a little extra time after practice patiently working on technique. And sometimes what he needs is a crazy man yelling in his ear to go out there and kill somebody.
Mike Zimmer’s staff will have all of that, by the look of it. There’s method to this madness, if you ask me.